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An Interlake reserve has delayed its summer powwow due to COVID-19, but Premier Brian Pallister is insisting Lake Manitoba First Nation cancel or scale down the event.
"What I don't want is division in my community," Chief Cornell McLean told the Free Press. "We'd rather keep the members safe, and not losing any sleep."
Manitoba’s public health rules forbid outdoor gatherings of more than 50 people.
Lake Manitoba First Nation, 160 kilometres north of Winnipeg, attracted the premier’s ire by planning an event that would bring at least double that amount to the community.
The band originally scheduled its powwow for the June 19 weekend; it decided on Monday to move it to July 24.
McLean expects at least 100 dancers and more attendees, but says organizers will implement social-distancing protocols. The chief said spiritual ceremonies can help people cope with the impact of the pandemic.
He noted Manitoba's public health restrictions might loosen over time.
"We’ll see where things are at," McLean said. "There were concerns (from elders) about outsiders coming in."
Pallister told reporters Tuesday he’s nervous Manitobans will squander their progress in stopping the spread of the coronavirus, specifically calling out powwows.
"Don’t put on big social gatherings like powwows and cultural events right now. This is not an appropriate time to do that," the premier implored.
The federal government has said it will help Indigenous groups mitigate risks at these gatherings, but said it would be inappropriate to ask them to not undertake cultural practices.
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe berated Ottawa for that stance after the RCMP were called to a sun dance ceremony in the province.
Last Friday, federal Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller told the Free Press that Pallister has to reach a compromise with First Nations.
"If you believe in self-determination of Indigenous peoples, you have to respect choices, even if you don’t agree with them," Miller said.
The evening beforehand, Pallister had raised the issue in the weekly call between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the premiers.
"I didn’t get the sufficient clarity I would like to get from the PM on this issue," Pallister said Tuesday. "This is not on. This is not acceptable."
The premier noted religious groups across Canada have cancelled events.
"You can’t send a message that because you’re of a certain race and creed, you get to have big public events that exceed the rules," he said.
Last month, northern First Nations temporarily blockaded a major Manitoba Hydro construction site after the Crown corporation convinced public-health authorities to exempt the work site from rules that closed gyms and barred travel to the North. Hydro has since revised its plan.
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